Although Matt Barkley and Marqise Lee both laughed it off, the symbolism was tough to miss. On the first play of No. 1 Southern California’s first game after its postseason ban ended, the veteran quarterback hit his speedy receiver for an electrifying 75-yard touchdown.
Barkley, Lee and their talented teammates have been waiting two years for the chance to play for championships, and USC wouldn’t postpone the chase even a minute longer.
Lee caught 10 passes for 197 yards and returned a kickoff 100 yards for a score, and the top-ranked Trojans rolled to a 49-10 victory over Hawaii on Saturday night.
Barkley kicked off his Heisman Trophy campaign with 372 yards passing and four touchdowns for the Trojans (1-0), whose offensive stars were every bit as impressive as expected.
”We’re just excited to play football again,” said Barkley, who passed on the NFL to return for his senior season. ”There’s so much talk, especially this year with all the rankings and the hype. This was just a good way to kick off the season, and really find that rhythm and that flow.”
In addition to Lee’s theatrics, Robert Woods caught six passes for 42 yards and two TDs, and tight end Xavier Grimble caught Barkley’s final scoring throw in the fourth quarter.
”If we can get the ball to (Woods) and (Lee) in space we can be pretty good,” USC coach Lane Kiffin said. ”We’re not going to win a ton of games if we’re not balanced. … I thought Matt did really well. He’s a couple of drops away from some big-time numbers.”
Silas Redd rushed for 57 yards and a touchdown on a team-leading nine carries in the Penn State transfer’s debut at USC, which led 35-0 at halftime and coasted to its 15th consecutive season-opening victory.
Hayes Pullard returned an interception 27 yards for a first-quarter score for USC, which outgained Hawaii 481-264.
Duke transfer Sean Schroeder passed for 208 yards and a score in his first start for Hawaii (0-1), which realized it had a rough assignment for coach Norm Chow’s debut.
The former USC offensive coordinator is a head coach for the first time after 40 years in the profession, but his Warriors couldn’t keep up in the opener of their first season since moving to the Mountain West after 33 years in the WAC.
”We thought we would give them a better battle,” Chow said. ”We made too many mistakes, but we didn’t quit, and USC knew they were in a game. … We started one senior, a bunch of kids who have never played before, in front of 93,000 people. We were all kind of shaky, but we’ll shore a few things up.”
Schroeder hit Scott Harding with an 18-yard TD pass on the first series after halftime – but Lee replied with his TD kickoff return. Jeremiah Ostrowski had seven catches for 34 yards for the Warriors.
”They’re a great team, but the taste is still a little bitter,” Schroeder said. ”We have a lot to learn, and hopefully we can study what happened today and build on it.”
After going 10-2 and finishing with at No. 6 in the final poll last season, the Trojans looked sharp while playing with their first No. 1 ranking since 2008. USC has never lost in eight meetings with Hawaii in a series dating to 1930 and including the 1936 Poi Bowl.
USC was on target from the first snap of Barkley’s senior year. After a game-opening touchback, Barkley found Lee with a 5-yard cross-field pass – and Lee reversed direction and sprinted down the USC sideline for a score.
”I just caught the ball and made one move,” Lee said. ”Coach always emphasizes making one move, and I had great blockers.”
Woods then capped a 99-yard drive with a 20-yard TD catch on a perfectly thrown ball from Barkley. Redd got his first carry for the Trojans during that drive, and he made a long reception on the next drive – but fumbled during the ensuing run.
Nickell Robey then tipped a pass late in the first quarter, and Pullard returned it for a score.
Redd made his most impressive run in his debut game on fourth and 2 early in the second quarter, sprinting 31 yards through the heart of Hawaii’s defense for a score. Woods tacked on his second TD catch after a long punt return by Robey moments later.
USC led 35-0 on Andre Heidari’s field goal at the halftime gun. Lee had eight catches for 176 yards in the first half despite two significant drops.
After Hawaii’s only TD, Lee promptly became just the second USC player to return a kickoff at least 100 yards, sprinting down the Hawaii sideline for the sophomore’s second career score on a kickoff return.
Barkley played into the fourth quarter before giving way to Max Wittek, who won the backup job during camp.
Schroeder, from Laguna Niguel, Calif., graduated from Duke in three years without playing for the Blue Devils. He made several tough throws under pressure from USC’s rebuilt defensive line, but couldn’t keep Hawaii moving consistently until the Trojans were insurmountably ahead.
During the game at the sold-out Coliseum, the Trojans paid tribute to former linebacker Junior Seau, who killed himself in May. Seau’s parents and children gathered on the field for an emotional ceremony between quarters.